With love from Linda
Can you imagine a crueler curse for one of the world's great vocalists than to suffer from a debilitating medical condition known as dysphonia which affects their vocal cords? That, alas, is the lot of Linda Thompson, who unsurprisingly asked to conduct this interview by email.
Linda has taken to her keyboard to discuss her excellent new album Won't Be Long Now, her first in six years. It's an earthy, no-frills affair that basks in the time-honoured tropes of traditional British and Irish folk music. The twist is that most of the songs are originals which were written or co-written by Linda herself.
There are collaborations with everyone from Ron Sexsmith to her son Teddy Thompson, and special guests include Sam Amidon, Chanting House singer Susan McKeown and Linda's daughter Kami.
Most noteworthy of all is that she has renewed her creative partnership with ex-husband Richard Thompson, whose inimitable acoustic guitar lines are all over the record.
"I did want this album to be a bit more trad," agrees Linda. "I like a stripped down sound. A good vocal, and a good guitarist, that's my favourite. All the people you mentioned are fine musicians. Whatever field of music they were in, they would shine."
It was when Linda was married to Richard that she made a string of albums in the 1970s and early 1980s that remain some of the finest in the folk-rock canon, including masterpieces like I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Pour Down Like Silver. Their swansong Shoot Out The Lights in 1982 is also regularly cited as one of the great break-up albums. But Won't Be Long Now sees the family back together, with Linda and Richard's children Teddy and Kami also in tow.
"Having a very talented family is both a boon, and a nuisance," says Linda. "A boon, because they're so good and I don't have to pay them! A nuisance because I have to up my game when playing with them."
The sleeve art of the new album features Linda gazing out from the shore into the sea, with a forlorn-looking pier in the distance. I wonder where the photos were taken?
"That's Brighton," she answers. "I actually dislike the British seaside towns. Not very nice weather; lousy food; 'kiss-me-quick' hats. However, it suited the mood."
Richard and Linda played the storied Lisdoonvarna festival back in the 1970s. Does she have any memories of the hooley in Connemara?
"Do you know what? That was one of the best gigs of my life. Lisdoonvarna was so beautiful. I also remember eating breakfast at the hotel, and being dumbstruck by the butter, soda bread, bacon. Now I'm starving!
"The gig itself was fab. I carried around a review for years, because it said I was wonderful that day. I simply can't remember who was on the bill."
Linda was last seen on an Irish stage as part of the Hal Willner-curated Sea Shanties concert in Dublin's Docklands in the Noughties, where she sang backing vocals on stage with Lou Reed, Tim Robbins, Shane MacGowan and a cast of thousands. What was her impression of the late, great Lou Reed?
"I met Lou many times. Last time I saw him was at a Martha Wainwright gig in New York. Me and Laurie (Anderson, Reed's wife) and Lou were sitting in the front row, and Martha was on astounding form. Lou kept bitching about how bad the sound was, and quite loudly. Still, if you had Lou Reed in your audience, you wouldn't care about the moaning, would you?"
Many artists have covered Richard Thompson songs over the years, including the likes of Mary Black, Cathal Coughlan and the Stars of Heaven.
"I like all of those versions," she writes. "I also love Bonnie Raitt's 'Dimming Of The Day', and Alison Krauss's version too."
Linda was a good friend of the late Nick Drake way back when. What are her memories of hanging out with him?
"I don't think I ever went to his place, but he used to come and see me about once a week in Notting Hill," she answers. "Of course I'm glad that the music lives on, but I'd rather he had lived on."
Finally, how is she coping with her dysphonia?
"It's an involuntary tightening of the vocal cords, which makes the throat spasm, and you sound strangulated. Allison Krauss and Shania Twain have it too.
"It was bad enough when it affected my singing, but now my speech is bad. We take our time in the studio. And I don't put out the bad vocals! Often, if I work for a few hours, the condition eases. I am so happy that I can do email interviews. Because on the phone, I sound bad."
'WON'T BE LONG NOW' IS OUT NOW ON PETTIFER SOUNDS/TOPIC RECORDS.